CIOs: Lure Top Tech Talent by Offering Free Lunch

Companies are going beyond compensation to lure and retain top IT talent. Among the most popular perks: tuition reimbursement, the chance to work with the latest technology and, of course, free lunch.

There's no such thing as a free lunch -- unless you're an IT pro, that is.

A recent survey from Dice.com revealed that in the hot IT career areas of cloud computnig, big data, software engineering and mobile one perk made the top three employment perks list every time: free lunch.

With just a 2.9 percent unemployment rate in the IT industry, companies are having to get creative and look beyond compensation to attract and retain top talent, says Dice.com president Shravan Goli.

[Related: Better Compensation Key to Retaining Top IT Talent

"We're seeing a high degree of confidence among IT folks who are employed; 65 percent of those surveyed say they're confident they can find a new position in this market," Goli says.

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That confidence combined with the ongoing talent shortage in the industry led to an overall increase in the number of IT professionals who voluntarily quit their jobs in December 2013, Goli says.

"There were about 500,000 'monthly quits' in December 2013 compared to 413,000 'quits' in the same month in 2012," Goli says.

"For so many of these tech pros, their skills are in high demand but low supply, so companies must get creative to attract and keep their top talent, and perks are one way they are looking beyond compensation to do so," he says.

The Way to an IT Pro's Heart

And free lunches seem to be a winning tactic, at least when companies are looking to lure cloud, mobile, software engineering pros and big data specialists, according to the Dice.com report.

Though it may not seem incredibly valuable, Goli says that companies that provide free meals are often viewed as valuing efficiency, employees' health and the team-building aspect of shared meals.

"Free food is always a good thing. But, seriously, many companies have proven the value of making work time more efficient; offering free meals helps IT pros socialize with their colleagues, keeps them 'in the zone' and builds better collaboration and teamwork," he says.

[Related: Survey: Tech Workers Seek Larger Salaries in 2014

But while free food might initially attract candidates and new hires, keeping top talent requires a focus on education, development and continued innovation, Goli says. That's why tuition reimbursement, educational opportunities and the ability to work with cutting-edge technology also top the list of popular perks.

Techies Want to Shine

"Tuition reimbursement and educational opportunities [as well as] chances for personal and professional development are also huge draws for candidates," says Goli.

Technology professionals are a breed apart, he says. These folks want flexibility, challenges and arenas to showcase their personal and professional growth and to demonstrate their out-of-the-box thinking, he says.

"IT pros seem to love the opportunity to keep their skills sharp and to work with the latest, cutting-edge technology," he says. "Some businesses offer the opportunity to participate in hack-a-thons or encourage talent to take on side projects, all of which benefit both the employee and the business," he says.

"It's all about creating an environment in which IT pros feel valued and play a part in creating a culture where they can grow and thrive," Goli says. And a free lunch certainly doesn't hurt.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.

This story, "CIOs: Lure Top Tech Talent by Offering Free Lunch" was originally published by CIO.

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